As a national, grassroots, social justice organization that organizes locally in the struggle for national single payer health care in the U.S., united by the common principles that health care is a human right, must be free from corporate profit, and must be achieved through national legislation, the Steering Committee of National Single Payerfeels it is our moral duty to take a stand on what is happening to the hospitals, health care providers, patients, and civilians in Gaza. Our voice is small, and our statement will alienate some, nevertheless, it is our sincere belief that we are witnesses to a time in history when our principled voice must be heard, loud and clear.
The October 7 attack by Hamas was preceded by a 16-year occupation of the Gaza Strip by Israel, who maintained strict control over Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters and restricted goods and people from moving in and out of Gaza. The attack, which killed 1,200 in Israel, including 859 civilians and 29 children, took 240 hostages, and injured 5,600, does not exonerate the U.S., its citizens, or social justice organizations from speaking out about the unfolding genocide by Israeli Occupation Forces in the Gaza Strip, which has resulted, to date, in at least 14,854 Palestinian deaths, including over 6,150 children, more than 36,000 injured, and untold number of dead buried under the rubble of their homes.
The thousands of tons of explosives that Israel has dropped over 12,000 targets in Gaza are “equivalent to two nuclear bombs,” exceeding the destructive power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Israel’s use of cluster bombs, documented by EuroMed Monitor and banned by the international community, cause explosions inside the body, which leave adults, children, and babies with burns so severe that their skin melts, often resulting in death.
The total siege of Gaza enforced by Israel, prohibiting access to fuel, food, water, electricity, and medical supplies for the 2.2 million Palestinians, about half of whom are children under the age of 18, the October 13 forced evacuation of 1.1 million Palestinians living in northern Gaza, plus the relentless, indiscriminate bombing of civilians, have resulted in the destruction of Gaza’s health care delivery system.
We are horrified by the attacks on health care facilities, which seems to be the major focus of Israel’s air and ground offensive and which has resulted in the shuttering of 21 of Gaza’s 35 hospitals. As of November 12, The World Health Organization (WHO) recorded at least 137 attacks on health care facilities in Gaza, resulting in 521 deaths and 686 injuries. Since October 7, 204 healthcare workers have been killed. The names of fallen healthcare workers have been documented. Before occupying the hospitals, Israeli soldiers surrounded these facilities with tanks and snipers, preventing the safe passage of staff, patients, and the newly injured victims of continued bombing.
At an Emergency Meeting of the United Nations Council on November 10, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, declared that the situation on the ground in Gaza was “impossible to describe, hospital corridors crammed with the injured, the sick, the dying, morgues overflowing, [and] surgeries [are] being performed without anesthesia.” He concluded, “The health system is on its knees, and yet somehow is continuing to deliver some lifesaving care.”
Since mid-November, the toll on health care facilities has increased. Hospitals in northern Gaza have been seized by Israeli forces and are no longer functioning. On November 24, the first day of a temporary truce, Israeli Occupation Forces withdrew from al-Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital and shockingly, the major target of Israel’s Occupation Forces. In an unprecedented move, the Israeli army arrested al-Shifa Hospital director, Muhammad Abu Salmiya, and several other medical personnel.
Bombing of health care facilities and other civilian targets, plus the complete siege of Gaza is a violation of the 4thGeneva Convention. We concur with the complaint that the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed on behalf of Palestinian groups and individuals, that sues President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin for failing to prevent “a developing genocide committed by the Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip.” Further U.S. provision of weapons, financial aid, and diplomatic cover must be halted to prevent ongoing atrocities, including those on health care facilities.
As international bodies have declared, “Attacks on medical facilities and civilians are unacceptable and are a violation of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law and Conventions. The right to seek medical assistance, especially in times of crisis, should never be denied.”
The U.S. has voted for, agreed to, signed, and ratified many instruments, including binding treaties, which protect the human right to health care. One of the oldest (1948), The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25, declares “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services…” The U.S. is a party, as is Israel, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 6 protects the right to life of each individual. Both the U.S. and Israel are parties (have ratified) the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, of which Article 5 protects the right to health. And both the U.S. and Israel have signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which protects the right to health (Article 12), and Israel is a party to that treaty.
We recognize that the U.S. has not lived up to its obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill the international human right to health care at home but at bare minimum, the U.S. should not finance Israel’s bombing of hospitals and other health care facilities, nor the killing of medical personnel and patients seeking care. National Single Payer urges the U.S. to apply human rights law in both our own country and internationally.
National Single Payer welcomes the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas and demands that President Biden call a permanent ceasefire at once, insist that Israel restore electricity, water, food, and fuel immediately, stop financing the destruction of hospitals, medical personnel, and patients, prevent more deaths of civilians and further damage of what is left of Gaza’s hospitals and health care facilities, end the occupation of all Palestinian land, release detained and arrested medical personnel, and call for unconditional access to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Palestine, who, while not responsible for this violence financed by the U.S. government, have been the innocent recipients of it.
Judy Albert, MD
Claire Cohen, MD
Ana Malinow, MD
Martha Schmidt, LLM, JD